Health News Review

WASHINGTON, Feb. 5 –The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is the first news organization to receive an award for Excellence in Health Journalism from the Boston-based Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making. The Foundation, which presented the award yesterday at its Research and Policy Forum in Washington DC, chose the Milwaukee newspaper because of its consistently high ratings by HealthNewsReview.org. That web-based project, funded by the Foundation, is the only organization of its kind in the US that reviews the quality of health news reporting nationwide each day.

"We were very surprised and pleased by this recognition," said Becky Lang, the Journal Sentinel’s health and science editor. "In the current media environment of instant Internet coverage and reduced staffing in credible news outlets, the pressure is on for us to keep the standards high. It is even more important than ever for us to provide health stories that are meaningful, accurate, reader friendly and that delve deeper than the surface. We welcome this kind of oversight."

"The Journal Sentinel has been reviewed a dozen times and nine of those stories received high marks with four- or five-star reviews, more than any other newspaper of this size in our experience so far, " says Gary Schwitzer, associate professor of the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication and publisher of HealthNewsReview.org. Schwitzer began the website with the support of the Foundation because of his belief that health reporting can, if not balanced, have a profound, often negative, impact on the public’s ability to make medical decisions.

Since the launch of HealthNewsReview.org in 2006, Schwitzer and his team have reviewed more than 700 articles and stories, and published an analysis of the first 500 in the April 2008 edition of the journal PLoS Medicine.

At the Foundation’s Research and Policy Forum yesterday, Schwitzer described the evaluation process and what he and his team have learned about the current state of health news reporting in the US.

During the HealthNewsReview.org review process, each story is ranked on 10 criteria, including whether the story adequately discussed the costs of the idea being reported, and whether it quantified potential benefits and harms. (See evaluation instrument at http://www.healthnewsreview.org/ratings_info.php)

"In our analysis of the first 500 stories, we found that most journalists usually failed to discuss costs and the absolute magnitude of potential benefits and harms," said Schwitzer. "That leaves a ‘kid-in-the-candy-store’ view of US health care, wherein everything looks terrific, risk-free and without a price tag."

On the other hand, he said that reporters have been very receptive to feedback from HealthNewsReview.org, which comes in the form of an email linking the reporter back to a review of his or her story on the website. He hopes the website will help stimulate more interest on the part of editors, who are a crucial part of the process of change. He also believes that addressing the issues of time (required to research and write), space (in publications and broadcasts), and training of journalists can provide solutions to many of the journalistic shortcomings identified by the project.

The Excellence in Health in Journalism Award, which is a certificate and a cash prize, is one way of acknowledging hard work and motivating best practices, said Jack Fowler, PhD, president of the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making, who presented the award.

For the complete PLoS Medicine study, go to http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pmed.0050095&ct=1&SESSID=65729af539d28a09f944a407b81a7d30

To see the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reviews and articles, go to http://www.healthnewsreview.org/review/by_org.php?type=Media+Source

To learn more about HealthNewsReview.org, go to the home page at http://www.healthnewsreview.org/

For more information about the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision making, go to http://www.informedmedicaldecisions.org/

The Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making’s mission is to assure that people understand their choices and have the information they need to make sound decisions affecting their health and well being. The Foundation organizes and frames medical evidence in an unbiased manner to help people evaluate their options, particularly in instances where differences in individual preferences and perspectives are likely to affect personal choice. For more information, visit www.informedmedicaldecisions.org/.

SOURCE Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making

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